(Here is today’s Mariner minor-league report).
There’s no doubt in my mind that Felix Hernandez gets extra fired up to pitch in Yankee Stadium. He’s 4-1 with a 1.13 ERA in five starts in the Bronx. Two of his greatest performances occurred there — a two-hit shutout on June 30, 2010, in which he struck out 11 in a 7-0 Seattle victory, and last year’s two-hit masterpiece in which Hernandez and the Mariners prevailed 1-0 on Aug. 4.
If you’ve forgotten, their run scored in the second inning on a two-out single by Mike Carp off Hiroki Kuroda, scoring John Jaso, who had doubled. Neither of those guys are around to help Felix this time around. Eric Wedge raved about Hernandez’s performance, calling it the best he’d ever seen by a pitcher while he was managing — pretty high praise considering he managed Cliff Lee and C.C. Sabathia during Cy Young seasons.
“This ballpark, that lineup, the swings and misses, the mis-hits, with so many good hitters over there, the efficiency in which he did it, in a 1-0 ballgame — it doesn’t get much better than that,” Wedge said.
Hernandez also had drama in a previous start against the Yankees last year, one in which he limited them to two runs in 7 2/3 innings in a 4-2 win at Safeco Field in July. You might remember that game as the one in which he hit three Yankees batters, and not just any batters; the three icons: Ichiro, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. In fact, A-Rod landed on the DL with a broken hand.
More drama could be in store tomorrow night when Hernandez squares up against Sabathia, just about as good a pitching matchup as you could hope for. But one element of the theater that has always accompanied King Felix’s recent appearances in New York will be missing: the resolute questioning of Hernandez about his future, with special emphasis on the appeal of the New York Yankees. It was always amusing to see Hernandez fend off the questions with his steadfast assurance that he loved it in Seattle and didn’t plan on going anywhere. It was a stance that appeared to be met with skepticism, though it was later proven to be quite sincere, obviously. . The under-current always seemed to be the inevitability that he would one day wind up in pinstripes — a possibility that fell by the wayside, at least in the foreseeable future, when Hernandez signed his seven-year contract extension in February. It was the second time in his career that Hernandez, who turned 27 on April 8, has foregone free agency to stick with the Mariners. He signed a five-year, $78 million deal before the 2010 season.
This time, the Mariners gave him a full no-trade clause, the first one they’ve ever given out. That doesn’t make it 100 percent certain he’ll never leave the organization, of course, but it’s safe to say he’s not going anywhere for a good while. So any drama provided by Felix Hernandez’s appearance at Yankee Stadium tomorrow will be refined to the pitcher’s mound — and that should be more than enough to make it a fun night in the Bronx.